Everything you ever wanted to know about the Zookeeper lionfish containment unit and a little bit more. The Zookeeper lionfish container is one of the most popular lionfish holding devices available and for good reason. The Zookeeper is easy to use and makes lionfish hunting completely safe with its patented design and solid construction. I’ve personally speared thousands of lionfish and put them in various Zookeeper containers and done it safely and sting free. Because of its 18 venomous spines handling the invasive lionfish can be a hazardous task, but with a simple pole spear and a Zookeeper lionfish container you can help us to control this environmentally damaging invasive pest.
How to use a Zookeeper lionfish container
There are many different types of pole spear or sling with which to spear lionfish but they all end with the same result: a lionfish speared (ideally in the head) on the end of a shaft. At this point the lionfish will have to be carried by a diver until back on a boat or the shore. Some people, often freedivers, take care of this by using a pair of scissors or shears to trim the venomous spines off of the lionfish. While I know plenty of people who choose this method, I’ve also seen firsthand that it is a great way to get stung by the lionfish. If you’re going to use this technique, we highly recommend keeping one of these reusable lionfish sting heat pack treatments available for post-sting relief. Back to the moment with the flailing lionfish on the end of the spear…this is where having the Zookeeper lionfish container with you really pays off. With the Zookeeper you can now simply insert the lionfish head first into the hard-sided plastic container through the split funnel opening. When you pull the spear shaft back out of the Zookeeper the funnel will strip the lionfish off the spear tip leaving the lionfish to fall to the bottom of the container. This way there is no reason to ever touch or handle the lionfish until you are safely back on the boat or shore and able to dump the lionfish into a cooler of ice. When handling the lionfish back at the dock or on the boat we also highly recommend a pair of these flexible puncture proof lionfish handling gloves. Another one of our top tips for lionfish hunting with a Zookeeper is to take your time when aiming your shot and spear the lionfish in the head at an angle from the tail toward the head. This allows you to point the lionfish into the Zookeeper headfirst which allows the long dorsal spines to fold flat along the back. If you try to insert a large lionfish tail first into the Zookeeper the spines can open and make it a lot more difficult. Because the lionfish have no real predators, usually they will sit fearlessly still and allow you to line up the ideal shot with your pole spear. If you’re looking for more information on how to hunt lionfish check out this article of the best tips for hunting lionfish.
Advantages of Zookeeper when lionfish hunting
The Zookeeper lionfish container has several unique features which separate it from the other lionfish containment devices. The long cylindrical shape is streamlined for efficient swimming and the unique bottom design allows for quick draining when lifting the Zookeeper out of the water. As mentioned above, the split funnel entry design allows for easy insertion of the speared lionfish and then the funnel strips the lionfish off the spear when the shaft is withdrawn. If you are using a spear tip with multiple large barbs be aware that the lionfish can sometimes get stuck on the tip and it will take some abuse against the funnel to get the fish off. For this reason many lionfish hunters like paralyzer tips without barbs or will sometimes cut off or bend straight the barbs on the multiple-barbed tips. Another advantage of the Zookeeper lionfish containment device is that they come in several different styles and sizes to suit a wide range of locations, diving style and various personal needs. Originally built in white, the Zookeeper lionfish containers are now made of a clear see through plastic which enables the diver to see how many lionfish are in their Zookeeper and to know when it is getting full. We’ve seen divers overfill their Zookeeper lionfish container to the point where tails and fins are sticking out the open funnel but this is never a good idea and another easy way to get stung. Keep an eye on the clear sides of your Zookeeper and when you fill it up to the funnel it’s time to call it a good and successful dive and head to the surface with your lionfish catch.
The different types of Zookeeper lionfish containers
The many different sizes and styles of Zookeeper lionfish containers can make for a daunting choice when one is getting started in lionfish hunting and trying to figure out which Zookeeper is the best choice for them. We’ll help you narrow down your selection with a full breakdown of the various sizes and styles of Zookeeper currently available and how to choose the best Zookeeper for you. The standard clear Zookeeper lionfish container comes in 3 sizes: the LCU 14 which is 19 inches in length, the LCU 16 which is 24 inches in length, and the LCU 20 which is 28 inches in length. All the standard Zookeepers have the same diameter of 7 inches and use the same end pieces and the same replacement funnel. Zookeeper also makes a pair of combination hard and soft sided Zookeeper lionfish containers, the Pro-X and the Pro-XL which have a Turtle-skin soft sided pull out section at the bottom so that these small containers can still expand and hold as many lionfish as the larger containers. It’s important to remember when using the Pro-X and Pro-XL to open the bottom and let the soft side expand out before inserting any lionfish otherwise it is possible for the spear tip to puncture through the material. There are also 2 different sizes of commercial Zookeeper lionfish containers, the larger Pro-45 Commercial Zookeeper and the smaller Pro-25 Lite Commercial Zookeeper. Lots of choices, so let’s look at how many lionfish each type of Zookeeper will hold and then we’ll discuss how to pick the best size of Zookeeper for you and your style of diving.
How many lionfish will fit in a zookeeper
Among the 3 standard sizes of clear Zookeeper lionfish container the 19 inch long LCU-14 will hold approximately 14 pounds of lionfish, the 24 inch LCU-16 will hold about 16 pounds of lionfish, and the longer 28 inch LCU-20 Zookeeper will hold about 20 pounds of lionfish. While lionfish can reach 18 inches in length and over 3 pounds of weight, the average is about 10-12 inches and about ¾ of a pound. This means that the number of lionfish you can fit in your Zookeeper is going to depend on the size of the lionfish that you are shooting. Because they are an invasive pest, we always recommend to people to spear all of them that you can and then sort the keepers from the tiny ones back on the boat. Remember, those small ones don’t take up much room in the Zookeeper so target them all! We have found that the Pro-X Zookeeper will hold about 18 pounds of lionfish while the Pro-XL will hold about 22 pounds of lionfish. The Pro-45 Commercial Zookeeper is designed to hold 45 pounds of lionfish, while the Pro-25 Lite Zookeeper will hold approximately 25 pounds of lionfish.
How to select the right Zookeeper lionfish containment unit
Picking the right size and type of Zookeeper for your lionfish hunting will depend a lot on the location of where you will be diving and whether you are hunting recreationally or commercially. Some areas like the Gulf of Mexico (The northern Gulf in particular) have incredibly large lionfish populations that are often concentrated on small isolated artificial reefs. Divers can often drop down and get 40 to 100 pounds of lionfish from one spot, and if you are diving in these areas we recommend one of the large commercial Zookeepers like the Pro-45. On the other end of the spectrum, in many areas around Florida and the Caribbean where divers are on natural reef in locations that are frequently dove it’s normal to only see a few lionfish per dive. The smaller Zookeepers are a lot easier to carry because of the reduced weight and streamlined size, so we recommend the small 19 inch clear Zookeeper if your plan is to travel or dive on regular recreational dive trips where the idea is to clean up the occasional lionfish. This small Zookeeper fits nicely into a suitcase for easy travel and you can still store your travel items inside so you don’t lose space. Especially when travelling around the Caribbean we’ve found that leaving one of the small Zookeepers behind for the shop and divemasters makes a great tip for a week of diving and they will love it because it’s the easiest size to carry on a regular basis! Stepping up in size from there the 28 inch holds a LOT of lionfish and can be tough to fill up on natural reef spots unless you are really getting off the beaten path and diving in territory that has not been hunted in a long while. The 24” makes for a great compromise in size and space for holding the lionfish. I personally often use a Pro-XL because I like the easy carrying and travel features of the small hard shell combined with the extra holding capacity with the soft Turtle-skin extension.
Accessories for the Zookeeper lionfish container
The Zookeeper lionfish containment device has one regular wear item, the split funnel used in the opening that strips the lionfish off the spear tip. We always recommend keeping a spare or two around because once the funnel starts to break the small lionfish can swim back out. Lifespan of the funnel varies quite a bit depending on several factors, an important one being the type of spear tip that is being used by the lionfish hunter. There are pros and cons to all the different types of lionfish spear tips which is why there are so many choices available. Barbs are great for keeping the lionfish on the tip and not allowing it to shake off, also for pulling lionfish out from under ledges. However, barbs can also make it harder to strip the lionfish off the tip with the Zookeeper funnel, and for this reason barbed tips tend to shorten the useful life of the funnel compared to using a barbless spear tip. Another factor that we have observed which wears out the Zookeeper funnel faster is when divers keep their pole spear inserted in the Zookeeper while carrying. This is convenient, but wears out the funnel faster. You can click here and see a tutorial on building a polespear holder from cheap hardware parts, or you can consider a Foldspear which comes with a holster and straps right on to the side of a Zookeeper.
The other popular Zookeeper lionfish container accessories are a handle and a carrying clip. The Zookeeper handle is a great add on item because it can be installed several inches back from the entrance allowing you to safely hold the Zookeeper without being stung while inserting the lionfish. The only models which come with a handle already installed are the Zookeeper Pro-XL and the two Commercial Zookeepers. The Zookeeper Carrying Clip is designed to allow the diver to clip the Zookeeper to a BCD D-ring. This allows hands-free swimming while keeping the Zookeeper conveniently in place with the entrance facing out. Because it is constructed with a bungee cord and clips on the end, it can be easily maneuvered by the lionfish hunter and makes for a more efficient dive.
History of Zookeeper lionfish containment
The Zookeeper was originally developed by Allie ElHage of Curacao when the lionfish invasion was first beginning to take over the lower Caribbean and divers were seeing them all over the local reef. You can still see many copies of the early design in the ABC islands where off the shelf plumbing parts are used to assemble the tube and threaded end pieces. These off the shelf components were made for a heavier duty application however, and added unnecessary weight to the original Zookeepers, so Allie set up shop in Sarasota, FL and had molds made for the various parts so they could be constructed of lighter weight and more practical materials resulting in a far superior product. The later addition of a clear see-through tubing made the Zookeeper even better along with a patented quick draining bottom design. We’ve been using and watching the design changes to the Zookeeper lionfish container for many years now and it’s clear why the Zookeeper has become the preferred lionfish container for most lionfish hunters.
Where to buy the Zookeeper lionfish container
Now that one of the largest distributors in the dive industry carries Zookeeper lionfish containers you can find them in many dive shops around the country and Caribbean where people regularly hunt lionfish. Of course, we’re biased but we think online at LionfishHunting.com is the best place to buy a Zookeeper lionfish containment unit because they have the largest complete selection and always keep a large inventory on hand for immediate shipping. Remember free shipping in the US on all orders over $200. It’s also a great place to look for lionfish hunting package deals which all include a Zookeeper.
Video of Zookeper lionfish container in use